In Sunday night's World Series game, perennial slugger and reigning MVP Albert Pujols went hitless. The man some predicted could single-handedly will his team to a World Series title failed to get a hit in four official plate appearances.
If it's me, I send him packing and replace his spot in the lineup with someone else. Forget his stellar .332 career batting average. The Cards don't pay him to hit harmless ground balls when it really counts.
OK, OK, I'm being just a tad facetious. Sadly, though, this type of "what have you done for me lately?" mentality is prevalent in sports.
Even sadder, it's more common in the financial world.
Going against the grain
Bill Miller is arguably the closest thing to a superstar in the money management field, steering his Legg Mason Value Trust
Since its inception in 1982, the fund has delivered annualized gains of 15.88%, beating nearly all of its category peers and easily outpacing the 13.45% return of the S&P 500.
While that may not sound like much, consider this: From April 1982 through June 2006, a $10,000 investment in the S&P 500 would now be worth $213,000. Under Bill Miller's guidance, the same investment (including expenses) in Legg Mason Value Trust would have grown to approximately $354,000.
Miller hasn't risen to the top 3% of the large-cap blend standings by playing it safe, and the fund's relatively low R-Squared figure (77) is a reminder that he isn't afraid to stray off the beaten path in search of value.
Quite the contrary. Miller has boldly ventured into areas other value managers avoid -- loading up, for example, on Internet bellwether Google
Unfortunately, though, his preference for other tech heavyweights hasn't exactly paid off of late. Value Trust's top holdings include eBay
More important, though, the fund's flat year-to-date return also lags the S&P 500 by a wide margin, which puts his 15-year run of outperformance in jeopardy.
So what's the reaction been? Fund shareholders who have been richly rewarded by Miller's leadership through the years are suddenly jumping ship at the first sign of a storm.
Earlier this month, shares of Miller's employer Legg Mason
With investors apparently yanking money out of stock funds amid a broad market rally, many have surmised that the recent underperformance of several prominent Legg Mason managers was at least partly to blame. On Tuesday, the company confirmed those suspicions, announcing that investors had pulled $5 billion from its equity funds during the quarter -- some of those outflows most likely stemming from the high-profile struggles of Value Trust.
But cashing out of Miller's fund now is no different than benching Pujols after a temporary slump -- my money says neither has lost his touch.
Can't win 'em all
It's senseless to think a fund manager will always be on top of his game. History has shown that it is exceedingly difficult for any fund to stay on top for more than a year or two -- let alone 16! Stocks can be wildly unpredictable in the short term, and investment styles routinely go in and out of favor. Plus, even the Warren Buffetts of the world make the occasional tactical error.
So it shouldn't shock investors when a fund manager occasionally finds himself out of step with the rest of the market, even one as highly accomplished as Bill Miller.
In fact, Miller himself has experienced several losing 12-month periods during his amazing run, but never during a calendar year -- although there have been some close calls. Moreover, he has only earned a top decile ranking once over the past eight years, but has still earned more money for shareholders over the past decade than 97% of his rivals.
One of the keys to Miller's success involves lowering his cost basis in beaten-up holdings by purchasing additional shares after a sharp decline. In order for this strategy to pay off, he must be more than willing to sacrifice short-term returns to win out over the long haul.
Therefore, anyone who has purchased (or sold) Legg Mason Value Trust simply because of Miller's streak has completely missed the bigger picture.
Winning the race
Dumping Bill Miller -- or any other proven manager, for that matter -- because of one year of underperformance is incredibly shortsighted. Trying to find a fund that delivers top-tier returns every single year is an exercise in futility that will inevitably lead to mediocre performance and needless capital gains taxes.
At the end of the day, we don't hire our fund managers to win every leg of the marathon. As long as they are among the first to cross the finish line at the end, who cares if they stumble a few times along the way?
At Motley Fool Champion Funds, head fund guru Shannon Zimmerman puts this theory to practice by looking for tenured managers with superior long-term track records. To date, he is batting a cool .909 (more than nine of every 10 recommendations have made money for shareholders) -- outslugging the S&P by more than seven percentage points in the process.
To see which standout funds have made the cut so far, put Shannon on your team for free by clicking here.
Fool contributor Nathan Slaughter is hoping the National League can finally pull out a World Series win. He owns shares of eBay, but none of the other companies mentioned. eBay, Amazon.com, and Yahoo! are Stock Advisor recommendations. The Fool has a disclosure policy.